My uncle was vibrant, brilliant, kind and also restless. And he loved guns. When mood swings worsened, we asked for his guns. He refused.
I was with my mother when the telephone rang. Her baby brother had been taken to the hospital with a self-inflicted gunshot to the head. He remained in vegetative state for six long months. We grieved his loss while his body was still alive. He succumbed to pneumonia, but he died of suicide by gun. My uncle had type I bipolar disorder.
Three of my high school friends also died of suicide by gun. One at med school’s graduation night, another during senior year. A third on what could be an uneventful day. They were depressed. They used their parents’ guns.
I have a brother and child, both brilliant, vibrant, kind and restless. They too have bipolar disorder. My brother is a renowned professor, she is a civil rights advocate. But suicide is never far enough. Their illness is not preventable, but suicide can be.
My uncle’s guns were not taken, and he is gone. I have my brother and child with no guns. Awareness helps protect people with severe mental illness from violence against themselves and others.